The U.S.-Mexico border isn’t open, but a migrant surge and a mishmash of messages and policies have created another crisis
Brilliant economist Thomas Sowell, 86, announced his retirement Dec. 26 from writing columns, and the dubious profession lost one of its greats.
Sowell’s retirement announcement sent me remembering his books I’ve recommended, including Economic Facts and Fallacies, Intellectuals and Race, The Housing Boom and Bust, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, and Conquests and Cultures. Sowell’s Basic Economics is an excellent textbook.
For 20 years at the University of Texas I mostly taught seminars, but in the late 1990s, classes of 500 sophomores convinced me I’m not a great lecturer. The best part of the course, labeled “Critical Thinking for Journalists,” was my primary text: Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed (1996).
In it Sowell showed how liberals believe they can find solutions by removing perceived cultural negatives, but conservatives believe “there are no solutions; there are only trade-offs.” Vision includes zingers like these:
• “We have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.”
• “What sense would it make to classify a man as handicapped because he is in a wheelchair today, if he is expected to be walking again in a month, and competing in track meets before the year is out? Yet Americans are generally given 'class' labels on the basis of their transient location in the income stream.”
• “Those with the vision of the anointed often advocate the settlement of international differences through ‘diplomacy’ and ‘negotiation’ rather than by ‘force’—as if diplomacy and negotiation were not dependent on a surrounding set of incentives, of which the credible threat of military force is crucial.”
“Critical thinking” at universities is typically a euphemism for Marxist thinking, but for two years, critical thinking about the assumptions of the left had a Univeristy of Texas beachhead. For example, liberals love to see themselves as altruistic and conservatives as selfish, but Sowell helped students to rethink their understanding of “greed.”
Vision of the Anointed rightly labels it “a term applied almost exclusively to those who want to earn more money or to keep what they have already earned—never to those wanting to take other people’s money in taxes or to those wishing to live on the largesse dispensed from such taxation. No amount of taxation is ever described as ‘greed’ on the part of government or the clientele of government.”
Sowell noted the biggest assault on truly critical thinking: “This [liberal] vision so permeates the media and academia, and has made such major inroads into the religious community, that many grow into adulthood unaware that there is any other way of looking at things.”
The Sowell writings I’ve read show no evidence of Christian belief, but his distinction between the utopian versions of the left and the constrained versions of conservatives fits alongside the Christian understanding of original sin. In Sowell’s closing column last month, he noted the enormous material progress since his birth in 1930, but the social degeneration.
For example, he told a high school class in Harlem, where he grew up, about sleeping on a fire escape during hot summer nights: Students “looked at me like I was a man from Mars.” No air-conditioning? No worry about “gunshots flying around during the night”?
I interviewed Sowell 25 years ago and realized why he turned down Ronald Reagan’s offer to join his Cabinet: Sowell loved to think and write, not administer and posture. He waxed sarcastic about the talkiness of many academics and politicians, “so-called ‘thinking people’ … whose verbal nimbleness can elude both evidence and logic.”
For decades Sowell has opposed such logorrhea and stood by logic. We’ll miss him.